Quantity of notes is a useful measurement

I take notes on paper while I read, and file them chronologically as I finish with each source. On other projects, I’ve recorded just the title and the date in my table of contents, but this time I added the number of pages of notes. It’s a handy little metric! The quantity of notes correlates well with the impact a book had on me, and it’s very easy to scan.

If someone asked me to recommend a book about education or death, so far I would head for anything with five or more pages of notes in my Binder of Doom. (The notes wiki gets a filtered, delayed set of notes.)

Several pages of notes

Two or three pages

Single pages

  • Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, by Neil Postman (1 page — this sucked hard)
  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1 page)
  • The Future of Statues, by Rene Magritte (1 page)
  • How to Read Heidegger, by Mark Wrathall (1 page — selected chapters)
  • My Arm, perf. Tim Crouch (1 page)
  • An Oak Tree, perf. Tim Crouch (1 page)
  • Regarding Sarah, dir. Michelle Porter (1 page)
  • Surgeons’ Hall Museum, Edinburgh (1 page)
  • Volver, dir. Pedro Almodovar (1 page)

Each “page” is a double-sided sheet of paper. For some reason I am self-conscious about the amount of notes I take. I have not been recording these scholastic anxieties and old school-related wounds, but maybe I should start. That could be my next metric— awkward moments prompted by each source.

Machine of Death

It's a world where everyone knows how they're going to die

Machine of Death is an upcoming published anthology of short stories edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, inspired by this episode of Ryan’s Dinosaur Comics.

All the stories will be about a world where a machine can tell people how they will die.

The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN”.

At a recent art opening, I pulled exactly such a slip of paper from an art installation by Hank Pine, and the mix of deadly predictions was very similar. A good variety of glamorous or outlandish ways to die (decapitation, dusting accident, lead pipe…), with the occasional realistic downer (I myself got “leukemia”).

Small talk around the death oracle was exactly as described in that call for submissions. “It said ‘lead pipe’… but I don’t know if I’ll be hit with a pipe or poisoned by lead plumbing.”

OLD AGE”, it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death— you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

I think part of the reason the diseases managed to be shocking was that there were fewer loopholes. “Hey, I… I can’t think of an ironic way to die of AIDS.”

A death oracle might be a good format for my long standing intention to find out, statistically, how I’m likely to die. Filling a hat with 45% “heart attack” would be several levels more morbid, somehow. Not as personalized as the Machine of Death, but just as accurate, in its way. A Pie Chart of Death is within the reach of current technology.

to recap

i have been neglecting this website on purpose while i finish up some lingering client work, but i don’t think this actually helps me get more work done. there is enough time in a day to bill hours and work on my thesis. i have made a hopeful new chart to measure both activities at once.